Images of soothing, minimalist bedside scenes on Instagram are my favorite—I double-tap every time without fail. Specifically, bedside tables and what they have on them (or rather, what they don’t have on them) fascinate me. It feels a bit like looking into someone’s purse and seeing the things they consider must-have, everyday (in this case, night) items. And as someone who tends to have a ton of books, lotions, face masks, and scrunchies on their bedside table, I’m also fascinated by how exactly people manage to keep them clean and tidy—and if the lack of clutter actually can help improve people’s sleep.
In an effort to get to the bottom of all of this and, let’s be honest, also try to find some motivation to finally clear off my own bedside table, I spoke to a variety of experts about what they think is best. They all had slightly different tips and tricks, but if there’s one hard and fast rule they all seemed to live by, it’s this: No technology by your bed. Period. We all know that this is sometimes easier said than done, though, so if you’re looking for a more specific checklist of things to remove from your bedside area, here are seven places to start.
Most experts I spoke to listed phones as the number one thing that can interfere with sleep quality. Dr. Jonathan Leary of Remedy Place explains, “we need to fully disconnect in order to shut off our brain and reach the deep sleep that we hope to accomplish."
Obviously, having our phones right next to our beds at night makes this kind of difficult to achieve. Some things Dr. Leary suggested keeping on your bedside table instead? To name a few: An eye mask, ear plugs, a plant, and magnesium supplements.
Any Device With Blue Light
It’s not just your phone that’s going to possibly interfere with your sleep, though. It’s any device that produces blue light. As Rich Barnes, founder of Slumber CBN, explains, blue light tends to trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime, even if you’re trying to fall asleep. This “prohibits the creation of melatonin and reduces the quality of your sleep,” Barnes explains. “I personally keep my phone or laptop on the other side of my room, which allows for no distractions before bed, and forces me to get up when my alarm clock goes off in the morning.”
Certain Sleep Aids
Most people need the occasional sleep aid every now and then (Barnes cites that studies show that one-third of people need help falling asleep or staying asleep), but it’s worth being picky about exactly which ones you keep on your bedside table. "All-natural sleep aids are the way to go. Currently, most over-the-counter sleep aids contain antihistamines. Dependency to the sedative effects of antihistamines can develop quickly, so the longer you take them, the less likely they are to make you sleepy,” Barnes explains. “... so instead of reaching for an over-the-counter bottle on your bedside, we strongly suggest looking into the alternative route. CBN, a non-psychoactive compound found in hemp (the ‘sister’ to CBD), is used primarily as a natural sedative. We would suggest switching your over-the-counter meds for something like an all-natural CBN product. Other natural sleep solutions can include Valerian Root, Magnesium, and Lavender."
Similarly, Dr. Leary also suggests magnesium or sublingual CBD as occasional sleep aids—though he notes that figuring the underlying cause of sleep issues is always preferable. "I always want to figure out the root cause of why you can't sleep before giving a sleeping aid,” Dr. Leary explains. “Nevertheless, until you meet with a medical professional or while you're figuring it out this is a nice way to give your body a little extra help."
Anything Work Related
As Heather A. Hausenblas, PhD points out, it’s important to leave anything work-related off of your bedside table. Even if you have your tablet, laptop, and phone on the other side of the room, spending hours looking at notes or files is equally as distracting—even without the blue light.
Instead of focusing on work, help yourself unwind. Dr. Hausenblas (who is a professor at the School of Applied Health Sciences and Brooks Rehabilitation College of Healthcare Sciences at Jacksonville University) recommends using an essential oil diffuser for relaxation before bed, as it’s “scientifically proven to promote a better night sleep and increase melatonin levels."
Even if you’ve removed electronic devices and work-related papers from your nightstand, Hausenblas says general clutter can still interfere with the overall quality of your sleep.
"Keep [the ] bedside table neat and tidy...All things on the table should be for promoting a good night sleep,” Hausenblas explains, suggesting sleep spray and a sleep mask as two positive, sleep-promoting things to have beside your bed each evening.
Anything That Lights Up
Even if it’s not blue light, Dr. Leary suggests removing absolutely anything that includes a light that will turn off and on. “Anything that can light up, or turn on or off and is consistently on will still cause our eyes to react,” Dr. Lear says. “They must go."
Fan of late night snacks in bed? You shouldn't’ be if you want to sleep well, says Dr. Leary. "The last thing we want before bed is food,” Dr. Leary explains. “If you eat right before bed your body will be working to digest and process this food. If this is the case, your body is still working and you will not be able to fully shut off."
One thing Dr. Leary does suggest keeping close by, though is a glass of water. "I don't suggest drinking a lot of water before bed because it will make you get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom,” Dr. Leary says. “However, I would say that a large majority of the society is dehydrated on a daily basis. If you are dehydrated this will alter your sleeping patterns. The last thing I want you to do is wake up in the middle of the night with a dry mouth and have to walk all the way to the kitchen to grab a glass of water."